Just over a week into the 2015 boys tennis season, it is already clear that the echoes of Kamiak’s defeat of Jackson and subsequent sharing of the 2014 Wesco 4A title with the Timberwolves last year are still being heard around the conference.
Jackson has dominated Wesco 4A to a staggering degree over the past decade, winning eight conference titles in that span and compiling a 97-match winning streak that ended with Kamiak’s 4-3 hammer blow in the Oct. 16, 2014, regular-season finale.
The streak included parts of six seasons, and the Timberwolves won all six district championships following those campaigns.
Kamiak served notice that the rest of the region is closing the gap on Jackson last season. Then both teams found out just how far other programs have come when each lost its 2015 season opener to Wesco 3A squads — Shorewood and Glacier Peak, respectively.
It’s the sign of an atypically exciting year in Wesco 4A, with Jackson and Kamiak both showing signs of vulnerability and Snohomish — having passed its opening-day test against Edmonds-Woodway — on the ascent.
“It’s a three-horse race,” said Kamiak coach Vic Alinen, whose shared 2014 conference title was the third of his 22-year career. “This year is going to be a great battle.”
Even for all of its ownership of the conference of late, Jackson’s defeat last week might have been a bit easier to understand than Kamiak’s in light of the fact that Timberwolves coach David Hutt has just four upperclassmen (two seniors, two juniors) on his roster.
“I have very strong players, but we’re young,” Hutt said after the loss to the Grizzlies. “Kamiak has six or seven seniors and all four of Snohomish’s players are juniors. We had seven starting seniors last year. Hopefully we’ll learn from it. We just need a little more patience.”
Make no mistake. The Jackson lineup has plenty of talent — it’s just untested.
Behind upperclassmen Bence Dare and Alex Olson, freshman Anuj Vimawala slots in at No. 3 singles for the Timberwolves.
His left-handed serve can exceed 100 miles per hour.
“It’s pretty impressive when he hits it,” Hutt said of Vimawala. “He can be as good as he wants to be. Right now, Bence and Alex can beat him, but by the end of the year he might be better.”
The issue for Jackson lies in the length of its lineup. After graduating four seniors from the doubles lineup, the ranks have been depleted a bit, and the learning curve will be steep.
Alinen certainly seems to believe that any reports of Jackson’s demise have been exaggerated and expects to be in for a typically tense matchup when the Knights and Timberwolves square off Sept. 28 in Mukilteo.
“I don’t think the apple has fallen off the Jackson tree,” Alinen said. “I just think that we had a fantastic team (last year) and we battled. Jackson has been our nemesis forever; it’s been that way for several years, and it’s going to be that way this year.”
Senior Jimmy Hua fronts a Kamiak lineup that also has some work to do to shore up the doubles portion of its order.
“If our doubles teams learn how to play together, we’ll be extremely competitive,” Alinen said. “To win championships in Wesco you have to have great doubles play.”
Longtime Snohomish coach Dick Jansen said that, for the first time in a while, his Panther lineup has the talent to match Jackson and Kamiak up top and throughout the order. The Panthers fired an early salvo in their chase for a conference title, beating Kamiak 4-3 in Mukilteo on Sept. 18.
Junior Kincaid Norris led the charge in the win over Kamiak, by beating Hua in straight sets.
“Other areas have more tennis players than us, more kids involved in club tennis than we do, but we have worked hard to develop players and develop depth,” Jansen said. “Kincaid can duke it out with the top guys, and we can spread our talent around. I’ve really liked the attitude of our kids and the looks of our kids in practice. They practice really hard, and they’re really improving.”
Alinen, Hutt and Jansen all agree that the increased parity in the league is a good thing for all the Wesco 4A teams and seeing talented players throughout the regular season can only help in the postseason.
Boys tennis district tournaments are in October, but the state tournaments are in the spring.
“For six years it was pretty much, ‘Jackson’s going to win it. Who might come in second?’” Hutt said. “We’ve been very spoiled. It’s been a while since there have been three teams in the race.”
Jansen agreed that a rising tide lifts all boats.
“It’s better for all of us to have the Yankees and the Patriots of the world,” he said. “At the end of the day we’re all trying to get better.”